One morning, a year or two ago, I was making pancakes for my daughter and we began talking about how excited I was to be writing again. A few minutes passed before she ran out of questions and went silent.
Then, she sighed deeply, and said to me, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
I looked at her sleepy, sweet face, still snuggled up in her My Little Pony pajamas, and was reminded again how serious she was, and still is, about her life. Oh, a parenting moment I was not prepared for yet.
I struggled to come up with a response that might ease the weight I could hear in her voice. She spoke as though she felt like she had to chose something now or she was failing.
Finally I replied, “Neither did I.”
And I definitely didn't. It wasn’t until the previous fall that I began to realize what I want to do. What I've always wanted to do, even if I didn't know how. I want(ed) to write.
In college, I was happiest when I had the opportunity to write long research papers. I was lucky that the major I chose allowed me to write papers that used most of the research I was already doing... Otherwise, I’m sure I would still be in that library. I'm a nerd - but, as we tell my daughter, being a nerd is way cool.
I stumbled through my 20’s, believing, as so many do, that I needed to figure out “what I wanted to be,” rather than what I was capable of and happy doing as a career. To be and to do are two very different questions. Yet we continue to teach our children that to be and to do are inseparable.
Why do we focus on asking children what they want to "do" when they grow up, why not talk to them about what kind of person they want to be when they grow up?
Whether adults notice it or not, the pressure to decide on a life goal begins at that young age, and it's our job to remind children to focus on who to "be" before they settle on what to "do." To play, to love, and to feel safe.
I want to be a person who lives up to my goals and values; I want to try para-sailing and I want to practice random acts of kindness. I want to do those things because I want to remind myself that I can take leaps of faith and, because I want to bring something positive to the world and it makes me feel good, if I'm truly honest. These are intertwined with my work to an extent, but they are separate as well.
As I entered my 30’s, I finally figured out the difference between to be and to do, but I it sure would have been easier if I had a long time ago.
At least I know what message I need to give my daughter who, by the way, should not have been concerned with her future career at 5 or now either. She's almost 7.
I need to to teach her that the important piece is figuring out what kind of person she wants to be and then what she wants to do will hopefully become clear too.
The world is full of magic. Children start out by understanding the beauty of life, but then they begin forgetting to enjoy it, often too early, as other pressures start to weigh heavy on their minds. It takes a long time to remember again, just how magical life is.
Also, who wants to grow up?